Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lessons in the Waiting Room: Tangoing with Suffering

I am in the waiting room—that ominous place of mystery where the severe storms strike violently, and in their viciousness, conceal untold secrets. They threaten to steal my love, kill my joy, destroy my hope. Battered and broken. Torn and tattered. Whipped and weary. The storm cloud continuously morphs to mock my sorrowful soul.

My human nature is averse to suffering. I am weak. I am tired. I am fearful. I was not created to love suffering. Suffering was not a part of God’s perfect plan of creation. It informs me that there is something wrong in this world. There is something so terribly wrong that I experience pain, disease, and death. There is something so horrific that the sinless Lamb of God was nailed to two pieces of wood. Scripture labels the undefined “something” as sin. All of the pain and suffering that God has called me to endure serves as proof that the seemingly insignificant first sin in the Garden of Eden was not so insignificant after all. One sin set into motion every drop from the ocean of suffering that engulfs me. The depths and horror of suffering reveals the depths and horror of sin. I have a righteous hatred of suffering because I have a righteous hatred of sin.

And yet, suffering is inevitable. I cannot will my current suffering to disappear or any future suffering to pass any more than I can will myself to live without oxygen or food or water.

The issue is not whether we will suffer; the issue is whether Jesus Christ will be made to look great through our suffering. Prosperity theology, which teaches that our faith in God will result in physical health, material wealth, and personal success, robs us of seeing the goodness of God because it is an unbalanced view. Yes, all blessings come from God and they are to be celebrated with hearts overflowing with abundant thanksgiving! And all suffering that we endure has no power to touch us unless God allows it; He is sovereign! Moments of intense trial and hardship have the potential to reveal the goodness of God because it is in the school of suffering that God chooses to refine our character. In the midst of the storm, I enjoy a new level of intimacy with God. He reveals Himself as my Comforter, my Sustainer, my Strength, my Defender, my Fortress, my Deliverer, my Joy, my Hope, my Friend, my Redeemer, and my Abba Father. Cradling me in the palm of His hands, He invites me to savor the sweetness of His tender touch and loving embrace. He walks through the fire with me; it is not foreign to Him. I do not enter the flames alone. He is here. And He is not silent.

This is a dichotomy of universal proportions. For within me, I find a righteous hatred of suffering and a holy embracement of suffering. I serve a God who detests sin and has won the victory, and I serve a God who uses suffering—a consequence of sin—to draw me closer to Himself. God has the power to silence my suffering by uttering a single word or entertaining a brief thought. If my suffering still persists, it is not because God lacks the power. It is because He has chosen to bring me through it for His glory. And the very act that feels painful as He willingly prolongs my time in the fire is the very proof of His great love.

My circumstances change, but God remains constant. Therefore, my hope, joy, and peace are rooted in the faithfulness of my Father. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).